Pathbreaking Journey

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Vanarai Leading the Way for Others to Follow

A single man’s initiative, Vanarai has become a people’s movement, bringing 250 villages under the Integrated Rural Development Programme and creating sustainable models of livelihood, education and healthcare.

Formed by Late Padma Vibhushan, Dr. Mohan Dharia in 1986 to create a sustainable model for Integrated Rural Development, Plantation and Reverse Migration, Vanarai has created a yardstick of inclusive society. An NGO which started with one man’s desire to see villages prosperous, has now become a people’s movement of sorts, integrating villages into clusters, and working towards sustainable development of villages through people’s participation. Water shed management, afforestation, women empowerment, education, health, sanitation and training villagers in modern agricultural practices are some of the landmark initiatives Vanarai has been involved in where development, self-reliance, people’s participation and reverse migration are the only mantra.

Today, 90,000 hectares of wasteland has been made productive and more than 1,85,314 villagers throughout Maharashtra have united and benefited through Vanarai’s intervention. Rural communities in Western Maharashtra, Marathwada, Konkan and Vidarbha regions, under the leadership of Gram Panchayats and affiliated NGOs, are living an enlightened life with better education, sanitation, water conservation and having a green cover of more than 20 million plants of various species.

The sole vision of the NGO is to empower rural India through the management of natural resources that would lead to enhancement of the socio-economic condition of villagers. It has also garnered support of the government and the corporate sector in carrying out the noble activities and bring many people back to the villages where they have found a fulfilling life by engaging in meaningful and economically productive activities. Ravindra Dharia, President, Vanarai, talks to Archana Sinha about their astounding journey.

Although Vanarai is better known for its work in restoring community eco-system, it has made forays into healthcare and education. Share with us the education and healthcare programmes being provided in the rural areas of Maharashtra.

Vanarai focuses on health management and sanitation. We conduct awareness camps; construct individual toilets and toilets blocks for girls in high schools. This has substantially diminished the drop-out rate of adolescent girls from schools.

We undertake health camps, trainings and awareness programmes in every village we work. The training programmes are conducted at the various Vanarai Training Centres. Skill development is our prime objective. With these trainings and health camps, we aim to improve the socio-economic position of the beneficiaries.

We have made considerable strides in the area of education, mostly in redeveloping the infrastructure.

Renovation of Schools

We did a complete renovation of two schools by repairing the toilets, ceilings, flooring, stage, furniture etc., as well as painting and electrification work. The schools were fitted with electric equipment like fans, LED bulbs, mikes, loudspeakers. Underprivileged students attending government schools were provided school bags, shoes, sandals, sports material, etc. This has made a huge impact in creating a pleasant and clean environment conducive for education.

“We undertake health camps, trainings and awareness programmes in every village we work. The training programmes are conducted at the various Vanarai Training Centres. Skill development is our prime objective. With these trainings and health camps, we aim to improve the socio-economic position of the beneficiaries”

Computer Lab and E-learning Kits

In order to bring computer education at par with urban schools, Vanarai has been striving to impart computer education and e-learning at the village level. This measure would ensure that children from the villages would not be deprived of quality computer education. We aim to convert at least one school a year in the villages where Vanarai is present. For a little over a decade now, we have converted 11 schools into computer oriented schools. An air-conditioned computer and science lab with generator facility was constructed. 32 computers, four printers and necessary furniture were installed. We facilitated e-learning kits (including projector and screen board) to 27 schools and around 10,000 students were benefitted. This has developed interest for academics and computer science among students and will help the young recipients grow in terms of education at par with their urban counterparts.

“One of our key areas of work is providing clean water and sanitation which are the basis of good health. We have installed water filters in more than 10 drought-prone village schools. More than 1,720 students from these school snow have access to pure drinking water resulting in better health and increase in school attendance. This has also minimised the risk and spread of water-borne diseases”

What are the initiatives undertaken to promote general health?

One of our key areas of work is providing clean water and sanitation which are the basis of good health. We have installed water filters in more than 10 drought prone village schools. More than 1,720 students from these schools now have access to pure drinking water resulting in better health and increase in school attendance. This has also minimised the risk and spread of water-borne diseases.

We also help conduct regular health camps and check-ups so that villagers live a healthy life. Hospitals and other healthcare centres within the region are regularly monitored and upgraded to tackle various cases.

Do you also offer education programmes for better farming techniques and promoting ecologically-balanced agriculture practices?

Yes, because we are mostly working in rural areas, we feel that education on farming techniques should be one of our main areas of work.

Jal Sanvardhan Panchayat – Ek Lok Chalwal

Vanarai has teamed up with the Government of Maharashtra, Maharashtra Pollution Control Board and ZEE 24 channel to run a campaign called “Jal Samvardhan Panchayat– Ek Lok Chalwal” all over Maharashtra. One hundred villages will be chosen where water conservation, afforestation, water budgeting, improved agricultural practices training will be given to the villagers, with an objective to make them sustainable and self-reliant. This movement was inaugurated by Shri Devendra Fadnavis, Chief Minister of Maharashtra and Shri Ramdas Kadam, Minister for Environment, Government of Maharashtra.

“Water is the major essence of sustainable development. Hence, Vanarai initiated various watershed management activities in order to increase the groundwater level, slowdown velocity of rain water run-off, conserve soil and water, and to support protective irrigation”

Krushi Melawa

We conduct Krushi Melawa for farmers under the guidance of the taluka agriculture officer, horticulture specialist and agriculture experts from time to time to sensitise the community about good practices and other benefits of integrating modern living and technology with the rural lifestyle. They explain the new variety of rabi crops, vegetables, harvesting, grading and other factors. These kinds of camps are organised in a number of villages by Vanarai wherein approximately 4000 farmers are benefitted every year. This has helped to increase agricultural produce and it has also reflected positively in the socio-economic condition of farmers.

Agricultural Tours

Agricultural tours for farmers and villages were conducted in Dhapoli Krishi Vidyapeeth, Baramati Krishi Vigyan Kendra etc., to understand modern practices of agriculture, pre and post methods for cultivation and harvesting etc. Farmers in various villages have started adopting this methodology. They are equipped with modern practices of agriculture and hence have benefitted financially from such tours.

Share with us the various water shed management activities undertaken.

Water is the major essence of sustainable development. Hence, Vanarai initiated various watershed management activities in order to increase the groundwater level, slow down velocity of rainwater run-off, conserve soil and water, and to support protective irrigation. We adapted various scientific methods like identifying aquifers and its optimum usage for increase in ground water level.

All the watershed management activities will show very good results in the coming monsoon. Increased groundwater levels as well as surface water levels and storage at various structures will definitely help the villages get an additional crop of rabi. Moreover, it will also help solve the problem of drinking water for villagers, as well as meet the water requirements for livestock and agriculture even during the summer season. The most significant achievement is active participation of local people in the projects and positive steps taken to utilise available water effectively as well as the maintenance of structures created under this project.

Ground Water Research Study

Vanarai and Advanced Centre for Water Resources Development and Management (ACWADAM) have initiated joint efforts for Ground Water Research Study. Through this programme, a research study of the village was conducted. Our objective was water testing and basic monitoring of water to keep a check on its contamination and quality. We also prepared a spring inventory of the village to discover water resources, geological mapping for ground water resources, its usage and recharge.

Watershed Management Activities
Sr. No Particulars Work Completed
1 Continuous Contour Trenches 38,920 (over 139.04 hectares
2 Continuous Staggered Trenches 7850 (over 37 hectares)
3 Loose Boulder Structure 2100
4 Plantation 500
5 Vanarai Bunds 37
6 Cement Bunds 20
7 Gabion Bunds 13